Why Equal Access Restrooms Are So Important

As of June 2018, eighteen states and the District of Columbia adopted laws which prohibit discrimination against transgender individuals in public spaces in employment, housing, and public accommodations (via Media Matters). Yet, the fight between LGBT+ activists and their opposition is still ongoing. A commonly debated topic is transgender bathroom laws. Gender non-conforming individuals may not be comfortable using the bathroom which corresponds to their birth sex due to dysphoria; discomfort related to a disconnect between assigned sex and gender identity,as well as the threat of harassment and violence. Despite their prevalence, the arguments against trans people are questionable at best – at worst, baseless accusations meant to criminalize individuals for identifying differently than how society categorized them.

Most discussion of bathroom laws is focused on transgender students. Under Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, “[n]o person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in…or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” The amendment’s goal was to end sex-based discrimination in schools – and by President Obama’s time that amendment included the protection of trans youth.  Although the current administration has since revoked President Obama’s interpretation of Title IX, it is in violation of the decisions of several federal courts, including multiple 2018 rulings. The Departments of Justice and Education ruled that discriminating against students for their gender identity is a violation of Title IX and that gender identity is to be afforded the same protections against discrimination as sex and race.

When the law doesn’t prohibit discrimination in public accommodations, transgender people are more likely to be harassed and even physically harmed, regardless of which bathroom they try to use. A study by the Fenway Institute on transgender individuals had 70% of respondents report being “harassed, abused, or denied access to public restrooms.” There is a pressure put on transgender individuals to “pass” if they want to use the restroom of their choosing – if a transgender woman “looks trans”, she is endangered by the women around her – and if she has medically transitioned or “passes” in accordance with her identity and is forced to use the mens’ bathroom, she will face the prospect of harm there as well. Without legal protections of people’s gender identity, transgender people will continue to be in danger every time they have to do something as simple and necessary as using a restroom.

There will always be violent and bigoted people, but anti-trans bathroom bills act enable them to more easily harm innocent people. The problem stems from society’s perception that trans individuals are somehow more likely to be predatory than those who are cisgender and that assisting trans people in feeling safe is “unnecessary” and they should be okay with using the bathroom which corresponds to their assigned sex. In the face of this ignorance, it is important to listen to transgender people and become educated about what it truly means to be trans. From there, this country can move forward to creating a more inclusive environment and enforce federal laws to end discriminatory bathroom policies.

Those who oppose trans equality in bathroom laws often claim it is unsafe to allow transfolk in bathrooms of their choosing. There is a belief that a rise in identity protections will result in a rise of predators abusing non-discriminatory practice to prey on young children and women in restrooms. This, however, is blatantly untrue. Media Matters involved the officials of twelve states with non-discriminatory laws in interviews which proved there is no increase in violence and sexual assault when trans individuals are allowed to use the bathroom of their choosing. This includes the possibilities of both trans predators and those exploiting the laws to enter spaces previously prohibited to them – there has simply been no increased danger for anyone.

Ending anti-trans discrimination will be a long battle, but starting with something simple and crucial like bathroom policy will help to show that transgender people are not dangerous or alien – they belong in public spaces the same as anyone else, and deserve to be able to exist peacefully where they feel most comfortable, without fear or the law standing in their way. Laws have the responsibility to protect and enforce equal rights for all Americans, and though they have failed thus far, it is never too late to create positive change for the lives of minorities. People of this nation need to listen to those in need, and start advocating for a society that is accepting and kind, rather than living in baseless and hateful fear.